by Martin Maenza
“Oh, this is terrible!” Lamprey said as she and the others moved aside.
“I had a bad feeling about this all along,” Crystal Kid mused. “Didn’t I say that, Grev?” He turned and saw his dark-skinned friend staring off. “Grev?”
“I saw something! Come on!” Shadow Kid took off. The other two glanced at one another, shrugged, and took off in pursuit of their friend.
Laurel Kent had been examining the crane. “Hmmm,” she said softly to herself. “That’s a clean break!” She glanced about at the cleared area of the ground below, looked back at the machine, then back toward the ground again. Something glinted in the grass, catching her eye. “Ah-ha!”
She flew down swiftly and pushed the grass away. There was a metal disk with six curved and sharp ornate edges. She reached down for it carefully, using the edge of the red cape draped over her shoulders, and lifted the object up. “A throwing star of some sort,” she said. “The others should see…” Laurel glanced up and saw her friends urgently taking off. She took to the air to follow, putting the metal disk in the pocket inside her cape for safekeeping.
Shadow Kid was still in the lead as he ducked between the buildings. The afternoon sun was setting on the waterfront, casting darkness across the grounds. That was fine with Grev Mallor. He was hardly afraid of the dark. In fact, like his cousin, he had trained to be a master of it. All those years exploring the caverns of Talok VIII had helped his eyes adjust to certain environments.
This was how he was easily able to see movement in the shadows a few seconds after the speaker had fallen. Shadow Kid had a feeling the attacker was nearby, and he planned on stopping him.
Grev landed and walked through the courtyard. He looked about for any signs of the person. Nothing obvious. He walked into a darkened corner, passing under an arch.
Just then, something dropped down on him from above, knocking him to the ground. Shadow Kid struggled to squirm out from under the attacker’s grasp. “Stupid!” he chastised himself silently as he did so. “I should have known better!” He prayed his mistake wouldn’t cost him his life.
“You’re not my prey!” snarled a man dressed from head to toe in black. The full-face mask he wore muffled his voice a bit. “Stay out of this!”
Shadow Kid scowled at being told what to do. He was not a child. He was a descendant of the champions of his homeworld. He would not go down without a fight. “I think not!” he declared, springing to his feet. “That is not the type of training the Legion teaches us!”
His hands lunged forward at the attacker. One was knocked away with a block, but his other hand grabbed for the man. He managed to snag the mask and pulled hard.
Shadow Kid paused for a second as he got a good look at the man’s face. That was just before a fist punched him hard, sending him spinning to the ground.
The man in black grabbed his fallen mask and hurriedly put it back in place. He shook his head at the fallen blue-skinned lad. “I warned you!” And with that, he took off running again.
“Grev! Grev! Wait up!” Lamprey was the first to arrive upon her fallen friend. “Oh, Grev! What happened?” She lifted his head gently as he started to come around.
“Uggghh….” Shadow Kid moaned. “Wha… where did he go?”
“‘He’? He who?”
“The guy who attacked me,” Shadow Kid said with some concern, “the guy who attacked the premier!”
“We’ve got to get you help,” she started to say.
“I’ll be OK!” he insisted. “Go, find him, or find the others! That man cannot get away!”
Lamprey nodded and soared off. Shadow Kid slowly rose to his feet, his head still throbbing from that one punch, and followed after her.
“You there!” Crystal Kid called out, spying the man in black fleeing across the grounds. “Stop!”
The man turned, accessed the threat that faced him, turned back, and prepared to ignore him.
This only made the young hero angry. “Hey! I said stop!” Bobb Kohan punctuated his point by hurling a barrage of semi-hard crystal orbs in the man’s path.
Without hesitation, the man spun to his left, bringing both hands around and slicing at the spheres as they approached. Each projectile shattered on contact with the chops, making them harmless and ineffectual.
“Hey!” Crystal Kid frowned.
The man in black smiled under his mask. “My turn,” he said, and his hands moved with lightning fast speed, reaching to a sash he wore in front of him. He then flicked his hands out, sending a number of whirling metal disks into the air. Their target: the young hero who challenged the man.
Instinctively, Crystal Kid summoned up a crystal barrier between himself and the thrown weapons. The disks, however, sliced through the crystal like a hot knife through butter. “Uh-oh…” the young hero groaned.
“Not today!” a female voice called from above. Laurel Kent dropped down from the sky between her classmate and the attacking disks, the latter bouncing off her invulnerable chest at the last second. “You know, Bobb, this is getting to be a habit — me saving your hide.”
“Thanks, Laurel,” he said. “Now, let’s stop that guy!”
Laurel Kent spun around, expecting the man to have fled. Surprisingly, he still was standing there, sizing her up. “Hey, perv,” she said as she rushed him. “The only guys who can ogle me are those I say can!” She threw a punch at him.
The man in black grabbed at her wrist and forearm, pulling her forward. He used her momentum to flip her over his shoulder and into a nearby wall. The invulnerable girl met the solid stone masonry, smashing the rocky material to rubble. While it didn’t hurt Laurel, she was still a bit stunned by the swiftness of his defensive throw.
The man in black looked at her red cloak as it draped over the rockets. He noticed a yellow diamond symbol with a stylized S to it. He shook his head. “A pale imitation at best. No challenge at all.”
He started to move away.
“Not so fast!” Crystal Kid called out. This time, he transformed the air about the man into a cocoon of crystal. But instead of stopping at a simple layer, he kept adding to it and making it stronger. “You won’t beat me twice!”
The crystal prison shuddered and rocked. Then, after a moment, a loud cracking sound could be heard as the enclosure was shattered from the inside out.
“No way!” Crystal Kid exclaimed. He ducked his head to prevent the crystal shards that exploded everywhere from hitting him in the face. When the dust settled, the young hero realized the man in black was free and gone. “Oh, farg!”
Cosmic Boy clutched the info-tablet firmly in both hands, his head bowed down and shaking slightly. The look on his face was a mix of frustration, sorrow, and anger.
Night Girl approached him in the hallway outside the medical lab and put a comforting arm about his shoulders. “Rokk?” she asked softly.
“He’s dead,” Cosmic Boy said. “The premier from Krltos is dead. And it’s all my fault.”
“No, honey, it’s not,” Night Girl said. “You didn’t kill him.”
“I might as well have!” the young man exclaimed, his face turning red with anger. “Because of my failure to protect him, I might as well have been the one who pumped the poison into him!”
“Rokk, don’t do this to yourself. It was an assassin’s needle-dart which killed him. You weren’t to blame.”
“I didn’t protect him! He was in a Legion facility, and that makes it a Legion responsibility!” He turned to the woman, his eyes starting to form a teary glaze. “Mark my words, Lydda! I will bring the killer to justice, and he or she will pay for this crime!”
Night Girl nodded and said, “I know you will, Rokk.” She knew of his dedication and responsibility. That was one of the things that had attracted her to him all those years ago when she first tried out for the Legion but was rejected. It was the encouragement of Cosmic Boy and the others that helped her move on and continue her dreams through other means.
Still, she didn’t like to see this kind of anger in her boyfriend. She had seen it before in the past, and she knew he would not rest until he made good on his vow. Night Girl took Cosmic Boy’s hand. “We should go check in on the kids,” she said. “They’re feeling as bad about not being able to stop the killer from escaping.”
The two walked down the hall to another area where the four students were gathered, nursing their wounds both to their bodies and their egos.
Lamprey managed to perk up a bit when their teachers entered the room. “Any news?”
Cosmic Boy turned away, trying to keep his anger in check. He didn’t want to set a bad example to his charges. Night Girl just shook her head silently no.
“Oh,” Lamprey said.
“Cosmic Boy,” Shadow Kid said. “I think I might have something. While we were engaged in combat with the assassin, I managed to get a good look at his face. I’ve been working with a holo-sketch artist on getting a composite.”
The Braalian seemed to regain his focus upon hearing this. “Really, Grev? Do you have the results?”
“It’s coming in right now,” the young man said. “Let me pull it up.”
The group gathered about the console as Shadow Kid worked the keys. In a moment an image shimmered before them, revealing a three-dimensional light image of the features of the face that the young hero had described to the programmer.
Night Girl let out a gasp.
Cosmic Boy just shook his head. “No… I don’t believe it. That’s impossible.”
“What?” Crystal Kid asked. “You know this guy?”
“Grev? Is this an accurate holo? Is this the man you saw?” Cosmic Boy pleaded.
“Yes,” said Shadow Kid. “I triple-checked. Why?”
Cosmic Boy swallowed. “That face… that face belongs to Val Armorr — Karate Kid.”
“Karate Kid?!” Laurel Kent exclaimed. “But he’s…”
Shadow Kid looked again and now could clearly see the resemblance as well. None of the six in the room had to finish Laurel’s sentence, which trailed off. They all knew that Karate Kid was dead.
In a small craft, rocketing away from the Sol system at light speed, a man in black stepped into the cockpit to join the pilot. “Mission accomplished?” asked the second man, a blonde in black.
The assassin pulled off his mask, revealing the brown-haired head of Val Armorr. “The target was eliminated, per orders,” he said coldly.
The pilot nodded. “The short-range teleport got you off-planet easily enough, too,” he said. “No one will be able to trace us since I jumped to hyperspace. The mistress will be pleased.”
“Go, rest,” the pilot said. “You’ve earned it.”
Val nodded again. “Meditation would be good,” he said, leaving the cockpit again and slipping into one of the small compartments in the back of the ship.
Val Armorr sat down on the bare floor, legs crossed into a lotus position. He closed his eyes to shut out the light around him. Still, something blazed in the back of his retinas. Something glowing, beckoning, like a beacon in the stars.
The glow shaped, forming into a capital L.
With eyes still closed, he shook his head to dispel the image.